alistair knox : an integrated approach to landscape + architecture, chapter four : conclusions

chapter four : conclusions

Author: Clair Lee

This research project has sought to gain a greater understanding of Alistair Knox and his contribution to the field of environmental design through an analysis of his writings. The focus of the research was the identification and clarification of key influences on Knox, the values that underpinned his work and how this was expressed through his built projects, writings and environmental activism. This chapter will consider the key dimensions of the research findings, their implications and avenues for further research.


The integral principle of Knox's work was his desire for landscape and architecture to be intrinsically and positively connected to human existence, and for design expression to be a reflection of a time, place and community. This holistic approach bears resemblance to the philosophies of Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin and demonstrates what Moore and Rainey have described as a 'merging relationship' between architecture and landscape.

The integrated approach of Knox was expressed via a number of avenues, most notably being his environmental building projects. Through these projects he was able to successfully integrate his environmental agendas, appreciation for landscape, democratic philosophies and modern design principles. Although intrinsically bound with the identity of Eltham, Knox's built work also demonstrates design principles that are flexible and can be adapted to other locations, as seen in the success of his projects outside of the region, for eg the Marks house in Mornington, the Richardson near Canberra and the Laversha project near Bendigo, where local conditions required vastly different design responses.


His work has been influential and has made a strong impact on the identity of the Eltham region. Public spaces within Eltham reflect his importance, such as the Alistair Knox Park and the Eltham Community Centre, which was the first mudbrick public building in Australia. Knox's sharing of ideas and techniques, and dedication to mentoring both professionals and laypersons, has meant that his legacy has been carried on and is evident today in the work of other designers, for e.g. the Eltham Library designed by Gregory Burgess incorporating mudbrick and timber construction reminiscent of the work of Knox, which was designed according to 'a sense of place, sustainability and economy of materials', informed by the ethos of Eltham131.

Knox's environmental building philosophy embodied democratic principles, such as the provision of quality private and public space, and the provision of affordable housing that are still relevant today.

His passion for the Australian landscape played an influential role in engendering an acceptance and appreciation of the value of native plants and the importance of public open space. His writings display an intense relationship with the landscape, similar to that portrayed in the writings of Wright and Griffin.

It is important to recognise Knox's contribution as a pivotal force in the development of an environmental consciousness that has become a crucial and necessary part of our lives. The results of his work, writings and influence are evident today, as reflected in local planning policies.132 Knox 'identified the fragility, of the Australian bush long before the environment became a matter of public concern'133.

It is important to recognise Knox's contribution to the development of a design philosophy that responds to a place, a time and a people. The lineage of his approach to environmental design can be traced back to the work of Walter Burley Griffin and Frank Lloyd Wright. Knox is significant as one of the first Australian born designers to develop these ideas over 30+ years of practice and involvement in around 1,OOO projects134 and his work can be described as a 'legitimate art distinctive of Australia'135.


The findings of this research are useful in assessing the significance of extant work and work which is derivative of Knox, and may lead to the identification and recording of this work, as an important component of Australian landscape and architectural design history.

The data collected in this report provides background material that would inform further research on Knox, including:

  1. The compilation of a comprehensive catalogue of project information, including any existing drawings and photos.
  2. The identification and recording of extant work.
  3. The conducting of interviews with any living members of his 'network' and clients.
  4. The conducting of interviews with subsequent designers to determine Knox's possible influence on their work.

131 Rhymer, op cit, p.79. The author interviewed Gregory Burgess architects regarding this project.
132 Nillumbik Shire's Greem Wedge strategy as part of Melbourne 2030.
133 'Honorary Doctorate for Alistair Knox', in Landscape Australia 2/84, p.113
134 Ralph Neale, The work of Alistair Knox, in 1986, p322.
135 Vernon, op cit, p. 2. Vernon uses this term to descibe the' Griffins contribution to the formation of an Australian landscape design ethos.

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